It may come as no surprise, but the Arab Middle East’s only gay pride event has been canceled and its organizer has been arrested.
According to the BBC, Beirut Pride was a first-of-its-kind event, but after it was held only once — last year — authorities pressured the group’s organizer to end his event, arresting him at one of Beirut Pride’s parties and forcing him to spend a night in jail before demanding he sign a pledge ending Pride Week and canceling Beirut Pride altogether.
Lebanon, the BBC reports, is one of only a small number of Arab countries where LGBT people can be open about their sexual orientation, and was the first country to allow gay pride organizations, but its legal code still says that any sexual intercourse contrary to the “order of nature” is punishable by up to a year in prison, though the law seems to be declining in use. And by Middle Eastern standards, that’s rather progressive.
Of course, it’s “Middle Eastern” with an asterisk. It’s the Arab states that are notoriously anti-gay. Israel is home to one of the world’s largest Pride festivals, which takes place yearly in Tel Aviv. Around a quarter million people attend annually.
Beirut Pride week is nothing like Pride events elsewhere in the world — it is a simple, nine-day “conference” featuring mostly low-key brunches, talks, lectures, readings, and mixers — but it was still a very liberal step.
Beirut Pride’s organizer, Hadi Damien was at one of these events — a reading of a play about “homophobic crimes” — when he says members of the Lebanese “vice police” stormed in and arrested him without warning. He was taken to jail, where he spent the night, and then brought out for “questioning.”
Damien was then told he should officially end Beirut Pride. If he refused, he could be referred to a vice crimes judge who would “interrogate me on the basis of articles pertaining to the incitement to immorality and to the breach of public morality for co-ordinating the activities.”
Damien did as he was told, tweeting that he was “out” of the process.